Dinara Klinton's follow-up to her Liszt Transcendentals from Genuin last year is a classy, finely engineered Chopin Institute album bringing together studio recordings of some of the works with which she captivated the 2015 Warsaw International Chopin Piano Competition. Klinton – who studied in Moscow with Valery Pyasetsky (Central Music School) and Eliso Virsaladze (Conservatoire) before coming to London to work with Dina Parakhina at the Royal College of Music – is an artist of flaming passion and exotic temperament. Determined, technically replete, acutely focussed, she brings a volcanic chemistry to her performances, impetuous yet disciplined, capricious yet cool, physically energised yet poetically wondrous. We're familiar with her Liszt, Chopin and Tchaikovsky, but I've heard her do miraculous things with Scarlatti, Mozart and Beethoven. Her big-boned Brahms shows the contemplative architect within.
This Chopin traversal commands attention at many levels. The Nouvelles études (1839) are caressed in velvet, their voices and chromatics curtained in veils of pedalled sonority, each a fragile glance just shy of seduction: the middle one, in A-flat (acknowledging the autograph order), reminds of the adieu of Chopin's “grey hours” with Maria Wodzińska a few years previously. The early G-minor Nocturne – arguably the most problematic of the Chopin canon to bring off, Robert Schumann's “declaration of war with the entire past” – is aristocratically crafted, wraiths of dances and chorales shadowing the imagination, the gasp and tension of dry decay in a responsive acoustic not lost on Klinton.
The C-minor Polonaise, theatrically weighted – Klinton's 2005 Steinway all about sepulchral gravity – is darkly magnificent. Some accounts stick in the mind, eclipsing all others. Hearing Małcużyński play this one winter Sunday afternoon in 1960, Royal Festival Hall, lights dimmed, was a life-changing, style-shaping encounter. Reminiscent of Gilels, Klinton's approach – the pain of loss, the poignancy of the once shared – comes as close as one can to rekindling the memory. Her proud, octave-powered F-sharp minor Polonaise scales the heights, more flowing, stable and less agitated than many a historic or current reading. She finely polarises the mysterious and rhetorical, chivalry and song, what Liszt called the “ominous air”, “desperate exclamations” and “defiance” of the opening idea – initially questioning/exploratory, cumulatively ablaze. Her right-hand glitters, her left-hand thunders. The cavalry canter, tight to the beat, and the cannons unleash their death. The central mazurka floats between nostalgia and delirium, maidens before men, heart before heroics. Two lightning flashes, pulverising in their fortissimo, break the dream. Sixty-four bars later, the Tatras wandered, silence falls: an adrenalin-charged narrative.
With the Barcarolle Klinton is more rural than urban, affectingly simple rather than aromatically sophisticated. The music wends its ornamental way, the waters never ruffled, the palaces of place and time viewed from afar. Her opening low C-sharp octave is full but not forward, preferring the Jagiellonian Stichvorlage and the French and German first editions (November 1846 – which placed the forte in the proximity of the second-beat right-hand chord) rather than Wessel's London printing (October 1846 – which opted for a forzando downbeat). Among the many litmus tests of the piece, the C-sharp dolce sfogato transition to the forte reprise is without fuss, rubato kept to a minimum, the expression buttoned-up, Klinton's back-lit modesty spinning a fragrance of its own.
Her B-flat minor Sonata – an interpretation marrying youthful urgency and high-octane technical finish with a measure of life experience – is toughly argued, favouring onward direction to sentimental hiatus or tempo bending. The Scherzo is gruffly Beethovenian – puissance pianism at its most arrogantly brilliant, free of terror – and the Finale is a disciplined study in sotto voce unanimity. Funerals walked rather than seen inform the third movement. In her tolling left-hand bells, weeping right-hand grace-notes, rock-steady beat, and patrician grandeur (crotchet circa 40-44), Klinton, bypassing the pre-war greats (Hofmann, Rachmaninov, Paderewski, Cortot – significantly faster), recalls Rubinstein; her cantabile is seamless and spine-shivering, the sustained prayer of the D-flat Trio a malachite of purest bel canto, each trill like so many ghosts of incense trembling the air.
Tackling the first movement Klinton unfurls a bold symphonic dynamic, more especially in the development section where she terraces Chopin's complex texture with Brucknerian nobility and a driving sense of clarity, inevitability and climax, thrilling at every turn.
The talking point, however, will likely be her decision to take the repeat from the Grave introduction rather than the Doppio movimento. It's been done before – Uchida (Philips), Ian Hobson more recently (Zephyr) – but, despite the endorsement of Edward T. Cone, Charles Rosen, Jeffrey Kallberg and others, continues to divide opinion. Joan Chissell thought it “illogical”, without saying why. Anatole Leiken argues against it: “Unless we hear new arguments to the contrary, we had better exclude the Grave […] from the repeat of the exposition.” The graphical evidence sends mixed signals. Of the three first editions published in England, France and Germany in 1840, only the German one carried repeat dots at the start of the Doppio movimento, despite the Stichvorlage received from Chopin's associate Adolf Gutmann indicating nothing. The French and English engravings give just a single bar-line. Surviving copies from Chopin's students, annotated by him, don't address the matter. Brahms's 1878 Gesammtausgabe omitted the sign; correspondingly the current Polish National Edition.
This is not the place to discuss the issue. The shock, harmonically, of going back to the beginning of the Doppio movimento is well ingrained. Yet when you get an account as committed and believable as Klinton's, returning to the Grave seems suddenly very plausible, that natal first D-flat not only obliging cadence and challenge dramaturgically but manifesting a continuum of Grave colonnades (en route to the development) otherwise occluded by history and habit.